Thursday marks the beginning of the richest tournament on the PGA Tour, which is also referred to as golf’s “fifth major” by players and fans alike.
The Players Championship features the top 43 players in the most recent Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, including Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy.
But none are within 3 shots of leader Roberto Castro, who made an early move at the tough TPC Sawgrass course and made his score stand up. He birdies Nos. 16-18 before making the turn, then eagled No. 2, the heart of his 63.
McIlroy is tied for second with Zach Johnson at 6 under. Woods, Hunter Mahan, Ryan Palmer, Webb Simpson, Steve Stricker and Casey Wittenberg are another shot back and tied for fourth. Scott, paired with McIlroy and Stricker in arguably the best group of the day, is T-16 at 3 under.
Check out tomorrow’s tee times and scroll down to see how the first-round unfolded.
• • •
Hole #18: Par 4, 447 yards
That was an incredible par save for Tiger, as most would be facing three putts after that tee ball. He now heads to the No. 1 handicap hole today.
Much like Rory McIlroy earlier shot the first under-par round of his career at TPC Sawgrass, Tiger is seeking his first bogey-free round at the course.
• Off the tee: Tiger a fairway wood, a strategy that has served him well plenty of times today, and hits a slight draw that finds the fairway.
• Approach shot: From about 200 yards, Tiger puts it right of the pin and the ball rolls off the back of the green. He’ll be short-sided and facing an uphill shot.
• Around the green: Tiger doesn’t get enough on his first chip shot and the ball settles inches short of the green. His second chip misses right and he taps in for his lone bogey of the day.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 5 under, 67, T-5. “It was a day when I felt like I had to go out and shoot something in the 60s today. Most of the guys were under par in the morning session. . . . You just had to leave the ball in the right spots and I made some good saves today,” he tells the Golf Channel. “The ball was traveling. It might not have traveled as far in the morning. . . .
“Overall I just need to strike the ball a little better than I did today. I missed all the balls in the right spots, which was nice.”
• • •
Hole #17: Par 3, 137 yards
That’s six birdies and no bogeys for Tiger, who now heads to two of the toughest holes on the course. First up: the island green. He is 11 over for his career on No. 17.
• Off the tee: With sand wedge, Tiger pushes his ball to the right, but it stays on the green and he’ll have 50 feet for birdie.
• On the green: Tiger hits a great lag putt to about 3 feet right of the cup after having to judge going up a ridge and then back down a hill. He knocks it in for an all-world par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 6 under (thru 17)
• • •
Hole #16: Par 5, 507 yards
Tiger is 3 under on the par-5s today, picking up birdie on each. Another one here would move him into a tie for second.
• Off the tee: Tiger takes driver again and finds the right intermediate cut, but he should be able to get after the green with his second. Solid tee ball.
• Second shot: From just over 230 yards, Tiger rips an iron that comes up short and in the rough. With water behind the green, don’t expect him to take many chances. Par might be good here.
• Third shot: But that’s why he is Tiger Woods, as he puts it about 4 feet under the hole with a nice chip.
• On the green: And he buries the putt to move within three of the lead.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 6 under (thru 16)
• Elsewhere on the course: Michael Thompson picks up a hole-in-one on the par-3 8th hole to move to 2 under on the round. Webb Simpson shoots his first round in the 60s at Sawgrass, firing a 5-under 67 to sit four off the lead.
• • •
Hole #15: Par 4, 449 yards
Tiger was 10 over on the 14th hole for his career, so walking away with a scrambling par is a win for the World No. 1. Tiger has the lowest round of those currently still on the course and is one shot off moving into a tie for second.
• Off the tee: Another fairway metal here, and another twirl of the club. He finds the left side of the fairway.
• Approach shot: Tiger seems to like this second shot, but it is about a club short and leaves about 30 feet for birdie.
• On the green: Tiger gives his birdie attempt a good ride, but it slides by on the right and leaves him with 3 feet for par. Tiger’s par putt hits something on the way to the hole, but manages to drop and he stays bogey-free.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 5 under (thru 15)
• Elsewhere on the course: With a birdie on No. 16, Webb Simpson joins Tiger at 5 under, four off the lead. Playing competitor Phil Mickelson moves back into the red with a birdie as well.
• • •
Hole #14: Par 4, 467 yards
While the birdie streak ended, that par at No. 13 was a nice one.
• Off the tee: With water left, Tiger simply pushes his ball to the right and it settles on the cart path.
• Approach shot: Tiger takes relief in the pine straw and tries to muscle it on the green, coming up short and in the rough.
• Around the green: After getting another free drop from a marker, Tiger nearly chips it in, settling for a tap-in par. Well done after the errant tee ball.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 5 under (thru 14)
• • •
Hole #13: Par 3, 181 yards
That was an impressive four-hole stretch for Tiger, taking advantage of four scoring holes with four birdies.
• Off the tee: Tiger shapes a nice shot into the green, but it hits a bit firm and funnels to the back of the green. He’s not too happy with how that ball leaked away from the hole.
• On the green: From just over 40 feet, Tiger hits a nice lag putt to about a foot right of the cup. He found the right line, just didn’t hit it hard enough. He taps in for par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 5 under (thru 13)
• • •
Hole #12: Par 4, 358 yards
Now T-8 at 4 under, Tiger needs to stay focused on hitting fairways. The greens are receptive today, so he can be aggressive with approach shots.
• Off the tee: With 5-wood in hand, Tiger finds the center of the fairway, hitting the right side and the ball funnels back to the middle.
• Approach shot: Tiger is money with his short irons today, putting this one to about 5 feet right of the hole.
• On the green: Make that four birdies in a row, as Tiger calmly slides this one in to move within four shots of the lead. Also in this group, Brandt Snedeker posts his fifth consecutive birdie.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 5 under (thru 12)
• • •
Hole #11: Par 5, 535 yards
That’s two birdies in a row because of incredible short-iron shots. That will serve Tiger well if he can continue that this week.
• Off the tee: Tiger takes driver and smokes it down the throat of the fairway.
• Second shot: From just over 230 yards, Tiger takes 3-iron and it finds the rough just in front of the green. Perfect line, just about five yards short.
• Around the green: Tiger chips it to a few inches and taps in for a third consecutive birdie. Now within five of the lead.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 4 under (thru 11)
• Elsewhere on the course: Ryan Palmer birdies the 6th hole to join Rory McIlroy and Zach Johnson at 6 under.
• • •
Hole #10: Par 4, 424 yards
That birdie on No. 9 could be a momentum boost, as Tiger is bogey-free and now at 2 under, which is T-29 right now.
• Off the tee: Another fairway metal here for Tiger, and it finds the center of the fairway. Beautiful flight on this ball from right to left.
• Approach shot: Tiger takes advantage of his nice tee ball with an even better second shot, settling pin-high and about 6 feet to the right of the hole.
• On the green: Tiger hits a firm putt and it finds the cup, draining his longest putt of the round.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 3 under (thru 10)
• Elsewhere on the course: Jason Dufner’s eagle at the par-4 18th was just the third in tournament history. Dufner’s tee shot barely made it over the water on the left, but it left him with 158 yards in. The other two eagles at No. 18? Glen Day in 1998 and Carlos Franco in 2002. Meanwhile, Brandt Snedeker — playing with Tiger — picks up his third consecutive birdie to move to 1 under.
• • •
Hole #9: Par 5, 583 yards
Tiger’s career average at TPC is just over 71, which he is on pace for today. He’s going to need to be better than that with the scoring conditions being what they are today, as he is eight shots back of Roberto Castro and has more than 40 players in front of him.
• Off the tee: Tiger takes driver and misses into the left rough. Will make it impossible to get after it in two with accuracy.
• Second shot: Tiger has no choice but to lay up, and does so and he’ll need to be accurate with his short iron.
• Approach shot: With just over 100 yards left, Tiger nearly puts it in the cup, settling 2 feet behind the cup. Incredible shot.
• On the green: He taps in for birdie to make the turn with a 2-under 34.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 2 under (thru 9)
• Elsewhere on the course: Retief Goosen has withdrawn due to a back injury after shooting 36 on his opening nine.
• • •
Hole #8: Par 3, 219 yards
You can’t miss 3-footers at Sawgrass and expect to contend, which is what Tiger just did at No. 7. He does have two par-5s in the next four holes that could work to his advantage.
• Off the tee: With 4-iron, Tiger hits a bit behind the ball and comes up short of the green and in the right rough. Plenty of green to work with though.
• Around the green: Tiger plays a nice chip shot up the green that settles less than 18 inches from the cup.
• On the green: Tiger taps it in and is bogey-free on the day.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 under (thru 8)
• Elsewhere on the course: Ryan Palmer taps in for birdie on No. 2 to move to 5 under, just four shots back of Roberto Castro. On the 18th hole, Jason Dufner makes an eagle-2 from 158 yards to move to 4 under.
• • •
Hole #7: Par 4, 442 yards
Tiger can’t be upset with four straight pars, not to mention how well he’s finding the fairway off the tee today – although a 9-under score atop the leaderboard might be testing his patience a bit.
• Off the tee: And again, Tiger finds the short grass on the right side of the fairway.
• Approach shot: Tiger reconsiders the wind again, and with about 180 yards to the hole he strikes an 8 iron to about three feet.
• Around the green: The short, uphill birdie putt proves too tough for Tiger, sliding by on the right. He settles for another par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 under (thru 7)
• Elsewhere on the course: Ryan Palmer has three straight pars after making one at the 1st while Daniel Summerhays birdies the 12th – and Webb Simpson birdies the 8th, his third in a row. They’re the low men in the afternoon groups, 4 under.
• • •
Hole #6: Par 4, 379 yards
• Off the tee: Tiger has often succeeded hitting a low tee shot when he needs one, and executes one nicely beneath a tree that leans over the 6th tee. He finds the left side of the fairway.
• Approach shot: Tiger is about 125 yards out this time and checking the wind. His shot settles on the green, hole high but well right of the front-left pin placement.
• Around the green: From about 20 feet, Tiger rolls it true but misses left, and taps in for another par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 under (thru 6)
• • •
Hole #5: Par 4, 466 yards
While they aren’t great looks, Tiger has three birdie attempts he’d like to have back, including that one at No. 4.
• Off the tee: Tiger takes driver for the first time and hammers it up the left side of the fairway.
• Approach shot: From about 180 yards out, Tiger hits his approach just short and left; he’s in the edge of the rough with a decent amount of green to work with considering he won’t need to fly it too far.
• Around the green: Tiger chips to a little more than a foot left of the hole; he marks and taps in for par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 under (thru 5)
• • •
Hole #4: Par 4, 384 yards
Tiger is looking solid thus far, although he isn’t scaring any flag sticks. Meanwhile, playing competitor Brandt Snedeker is 2 over through three holes.
• Off the tee: Again, fairway metal. Again, fairway. Tiger even gives the club a bit of a twirl.
• Approach shot: Tiger’s second shot is a bit deep, finding the fringe, where he’ll be able to putt down the hill from about 15 feet.
• Around the green: Tiger chooses to chip his third shot and it comes up about 18 inches short, which he knocks in for a par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 under (thru 4)
• • •
Hole #3: Par 3, 177 yards
Tiger was the only one to birdie the par-5 2nd, with Kuchar picking up par and Snedeker a bogey.
• Off the tee: Tiger doesn’t like this ball, but it settles pin-high and just off the green to the right.
• Around the green: Tiger gives his putt from off the green a good run, but misses left and taps in for a par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 under (thru 3)
• • •
Hole #2: Par 5, 532 yards
Tiger is going to need those putts to drop on a course where he won’t be able to use driver all that often because you need to stay in the fairway.
• Off the tee: Tiger takes fairway metal again and he hammers it up the throat of the fairway. It runs forever, so he should still get a look at the green.
• Second shot: From 225 yards, Tiger plays too much cut and it finds a greenside bunker on the right.
• Around the green: Tiger nearly holes out the bunker shot, leaving himself 2 feet for birdie.
• On the green: Tiger raps in his birdie putt and moves into the red.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 under (thru 2)
• Elsewhere on the course: Bob Estes has withdrawn prior to his round due to illness. He is replaced by Scott Langley.
• • •
Hole #1: Par 4, 392 yards
There will be throngs of fans following this afternoon group, as defending champ Matt Kuchar also has a huge fan base. Tiger is sporting an orange shirt, grey slacks and a white hat. Temperatures are moderate and the course is firming up a bit, as it continues to recover from heavy storms last week.
• Off the tee: With fairway metal, Tiger goes right of the fairway and finds sand. He looks disgusted after that opening to his round. Hasn’t had much success at Sawgrass since his win in 2001, including two WDs due to injuries.
• Approach shot: With just under 150 yards left, Tiger sticks his second shot to about 8 feet past the hole. Nice shot that he stared down there.
• On the green: The birdie putt doesn’t start far enough to the left and it runs past and he settles for a two-putt par. He actually chuckles about his birdie miss.
TIGER ON THE DAY: Even (thru 1)
• Elsewhere on the course: Luke Donald nails a birdie putt from the fringe at No. 1, while Webb Simpson opens birdie-birdie on Nos. 1-2.
• • •
Update #29: 1:35 p.m. EDT
Rory McIlroy narrowly misses a long birdie attempt on the par-5 9th and has to settle for a 6-under 66 after seven closing pars. He’s currently T-2 with Zach Johnson, who misses a 15-footer for birdie on the par-4 18th.
• • •
Update #28: 1:19 p.m. EDT
Zach Johnson has joined Rory McIlroy at 6 under with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 16-17, this coming after his only bogey of the round on the par-4 14th.
Johnson has struggled this season, making 8 of 11 cuts, but his best finish is a T-18 at the limited-field Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He has only two top-25s this season and no top-10s.
• • •
Update #27: 1:06 p.m. EDT
A great one-liner from current leader Roberto Castro: “Tiger doesn’t play till this afternoon, so I’m sure some people were looking for something interesting to watch.”
• • •
Update #26: 1:02 p.m. EDT
The birdies have not been as prevalent of the last 45 minutes or so, keeping Rory McIlroy alone in second at 6 under, but he just missed a 12-footer for birdie on No. 7 that could have moved him within two of the lead.
Scores are still low on Thursday, with 39 of the 88 players that are on the course or completed the round in red figures.
• • •
Update #25: 12:27 p.m. EDT
After opening his round with five consecutive birdies, Scott Stallings has run into all sorts of trouble, picking up a double-bogey on the par-4 12th and triple-bogey on the par-5 16th. He has fallen all the way back to even par.
• • •
Update #24: 12:14 p.m. EDT
Roberto Castro misses a 13-footer for birdie to break the course record, but settles for a 9-under 63, currently three shots ahead of Rory McIlroy. Castro’s 63 came without a putt made of over 10 feet.
Steve Stricker picked up his first bogey of the day, making a 4-footer at No. 4 to fall back to 5 under. He is tied in third with Casey Wittenberg, Keegan Bradley and Zach Johnson.
• • •
Update #23: 11:54 a.m. EDT
There they go again! Rory McIlroy and Steve Stricker birdie the par-5 2nd hole to both move to 6 under, three back of Roberto Castro, who pars the 7th hole.
McIlroy and Stricker have identical scorecards, with birides on Nos. 2, 11, 12, 14, 16 and 17.
• • •
Update #22: 11:39 a.m. EDT
Roberto Castro is now three clear of the field after a short birdie make at the par-4 6th hole and is now 9 under on the round. The course record is 9 under and Castro has three holes to play, including the par-5 9th.
• • •
Update #21: 11:26 a.m. EDT
Here’s an update on the par-3 17th. So far, seven birdies have been made through 13 groups. Five water balls have also been produced. Aside from Luke Guthrie and Ken Duke, who both found the water early, Brian Davis, Brendan Steele and Boo Weekley have also missed dry land off the tee at No. 17. Weekley’s tee ball was especially disastrous as he splashed it a good 10-15 yards left of the island green.
• • •
Update #20: 11:10 a.m. EDT
At this point, you can’t stop Roberto Castro, you can only hope to contain him. Castro adds another birdie to his impressive round, this one at the par-4 4th hole and he moves to 8 under, two clear of Casey Wittenberg. The course record at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course is a 9-under 63.
Scores are low Thursday morning, with 32 of the 72 players currently on the course at 1 under or better.
• • •
Update #19: 11:06 a.m. EDT
Current leader Roberto Castro is trying to become the second straight Georgia Tech alum to win the Players Championship. He’s never won a PGA Tour event, either. Read more about Castro here.
• • •
Update #18: 10:59 a.m. EDT
Rory McIlroy looks to be finding his late-spring form, picking up a birdie on the island par-3 17th after a birdie on the par-5 16th to move himself to 5 under, two back of Roberto Castro.
McIlroy is playing with Steve Stricker, and both players have birdied the exact same holes (Nos. 11, 12, 14, 16, 17).
• • •
Update #17: 10:48 a.m. EDT
Nothing like an eagle to take the lead at the Tour’s richest tournament. Roberto Castro picks up an eagle-3 at the par-5 2nd hole to move to 7 under, two clear of Scott Stallings. Castro still has some work to do to post his best round of the year, which is currently a 63 in the first round of the Humana Challenge.
• • •
Update #16: 10:46 a.m. EDT
James Walton, who caddies for Y.E. Yang, stuck his tee shot to 4 1/2 feet on No. 17 to win the closest-to-the-pin caddie competition Wednesday at TPC Sawgrass. Read the story here.
• • •
Update #15: 10:34 a.m. EDT
After opening with five pars, Bubba Watson has birdied Nos. 15-17 to move to 3 under. Watson did not play the Players in 2012, with his best finish a T-37 in 2009.
• • •
Update #14: 10:29 a.m. EDT
Hunter Mahan is 3 under through eight holes after just recently getting up-and-down from the greenside bunker at the par-3 17th to save par. Since his runner-up finish at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, Mahan has missed two cuts and finished no better than T-21 in six events. His record at the Players is a mixed bag: two missed cuts, two finishes of T-40 or worse, and a T-6 finish in 2011.
• • •
Update #13: 10:27 a.m. EDT
Keegan Bradley is putting on a show right now, picking up his fifth birdie in seven holes, overcoming a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 11th to now stand at 3 under and two off the lead. Bradley’s best finish at the Players is T-35 (2012).
• • •
Update #12: 10:18 a.m. EDT
Rory McIlroy misses a 15-footer for birdie on No. 15 and stays at 3 under, two off the lead. McIlroy has never made the cut at the Players Championship and his best score is an even-par 72 in six rounds.
• • •
Update #11: 10:09 a.m. EDT
While TPC Sawgrass will never be mistaken as an easy course, Roberto Castro is making it look simple right now, picking up birdies at both Nos. 17 and 18 to move into a tie for the lead at 5 under. Castro will now move to a front nine that co-leader Scott Stallings just manhandled.
• • •
Update #10: 10:03 a.m. EDT
Despite a double bogey at the par-5 11th, Keegan Bradley finds himself at 2 under thanks to four birdies in his first six holes. He’s made two straight at the moment, including one at the par-4 15th, where he sank an 8-footer for birdie.
• • •
Update #9: 10:02 a.m. EDT
Don’t look now — ok, go ahead and look — but Rory McIlroy is 3 under through five holes and is now just two shots off Scott Stallings’ early lead. McIlroy was in contention last week at the Wells Fargo, getting to within one shot with seven to play, but sloppy play pushed him down the leaderboard and opened the door for Derek Ernst.
McIlroy has not won since the BMW Championship in September of 2012 and missed the cut at the Players in 2012.
• • •
Update #8: 9:56 a.m. EDT
It’s early in the first round, but the par-3 17th has already claimed a couple of victims. Luke Guthrie and Ken Duke have both put tee balls in the water. Guthrie double-bogeyed the hole while Duke got up-and-down after hitting again from the tee box to save bogey. Francesco Molinari also has a double bogey at the hole, which has also yielded two birdies through three groups so far. Roberto Castro stuck his tee shot inside 2 feet and made birdie.
• • •
Update #7: 9:54 a.m. EDT
Scoring conditions seem to be ripe today, as 28 of the 72 players on the course are in red numbers, while 22 more are at even par.
• • •
Update #6: 9:52 a.m. EDT
With Scott Stallings picking up a second consecutive par (we know, ho-hum), his lead has shrunk to one shot as Roberto Castro has also started on a hot note, picking up four birdies through his first eight holes (he is on the back first) to move to 4 under.
Castro’s best finish this season is a T-16 at the Waste Management Open, while he has made 7 of 14 cuts. The Georgia Tech product has earned just over $230,000 this season.
• • •
Update #5: 9:47 a.m. EDT
Luke Guthrie was hoping not to pick up where he left off after a final-round 84 at the Wells Fargo Championship last week, but posted a 5-over 41 playing the back nine in his first start at the Players.
Guthrie has five top-25s and two top-10s in 14 starts on Tour this season.
• • •
Update #4: 9:37 a.m. EDT
Scott Stallings birdie streak ends with a par at the 6th hole (read about how he opened with five birdies here).
There are some mighty big names on the course right now, with Rory McIlroy also getting out to a fast start, picking up birdies on Nos. 11 and 12 to move to 2 under through his first three holes. Adam Scott and Steve Stricker birdie the same holes to also get to 2 under.
• • •
Update #3: 9:15 a.m. EDT
After sticking his approach to about 5 feet, Scott Stallings has moved to 5 under, opening his round with five consecutive birdies. Casey Wittenberg is 3 under through six holes, yet finds himself two shots off the lead.
Stallings low round of the year is a 63 in the third round of the Humana Challenge in January.
• • •
Update #2: 9 a.m. EDT
Make that four birdies in a row to open the round for Scott Stallings. Stallings sank a 35-footer for birdie at the par-4 first hole and just recently made a 17-footer birdie at the par-4 fourth hole.
• • •
Update #1: 8:45 a.m. EDT
Scott Stallings couldn’t have scripted a better start to his round, picking up birdies on the first three holes as he runs out to an early one-shot lead over Jason Kokrak (thru 6), Chad Campbell (thru 4) and Casey Wittenberg (thru 4).
Stallings has missed eight cuts in 13 starts this season, with only one top-10 under his belt. In his only Players start (2012), he missed the cut after rounds of 72 and 75.
• • •
Click on any headline for the full story
Luke Donald is the most popular pick, mostly due to his short-game prowess. Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson also register as favorites at this week’s Players Championship.
Vijay Singh on Wednesday filed suit against the PGA Tour, alleging “violating its duty of care and good faith” in the recent controversy surrounding his use of deer-antler spray, according to a news release from Singh.
Davis Love III will be making his 28th Players start at TPC Sawgrass, a stat he says speaks to two things: “One, that means you’re old,” said the 49-year-old Love with a grin. “And two, it means you’ve stayed pretty competitive.”
The thread of a Hall of Fame evening, as it usually is, is how the inductees took small sparks of opportunity and chance and somehow wove such a great game into the fabric of their lives.
The topic of whether television viewers should be allowed to call in rules violations reared its head again Tuesday when Brandt Snedeker emphatically expressed his opinion.
At some point, aren’t we justified to ask our athletes to do the right thing? Much has been made of the handful of PGA Tour members who didn’t do any of that last week, choosing instead to sulk about shoddy greens at Quail Hollow Club and withdraw.
Nearly a month removed from his Masters victory, Adam Scott has managed as gentle a re-entry into the PGA Tour atmosphere as possible.
Graeme McDowell went nearly two years in between wins on the PGA Tour, making it back to the winner’s circle behind accepting the way he needs to play the game and learning how to deal with his fame.